Monday, February 16, 2009

The Tired State of Comedy in 2009

The other day, I checked out the 2009 movie release schedule to see what comedies I could look forward to seeing in the coming months. It really disappointed me to find the schedule jam-packed with rip-offs, remakes and sequels. I should have known that The Pink Panther 2 was a sign of the Comedy Apocalypse.

The paucity of ideas is demonstrated by the fact that, in many instances, the plots of these films sound almost exactly the same. I wrote last week about Paul Blart: Mall Cop, which is the story of a zealous, overweight, hypoglycemic mall security guard. Well, an upcoming release is Observe and Report, which features Seth Rogen as a zealous, overweight, bipolar mall security guard. Rogen's character, Ronnie Barnhardt, wants to get into the police academy and go out with a cute girl who works in the mall. He eventually seizes an opportunity to show off his law enforcement skills. This is Blart all over again. Mall comedy fans will be pleased to hear that Patton Oswalt co-stars in the film as "Cinnabon Man."

The release schedule is dominated by films attempting to copy two recent Judd Apatow hits, Superbad and Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

The movie most like Forgetting Sarah Marshall is Couples Retreat. The film, like Sarah Marshall, has a large ensemble cast, including Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau, Jason Bateman and "Sarah Marshall" herself Kristen Bell. The plot centers on four couples who visit a tropical island resort and become involved in the resort’s couples therapy. Tropical island resort. Romantic troubles. Free-flowing liquor. It sounds awfully like Sarah Marshall to me.

Superbad was about two desperately horny high school nerds who plan to use a fake ID to buy liquor so that they can bring the liquor to a party and get a couple of girls drunk. Bart Got a Room is about a desperately horny high school nerd looking for a prom date. I Love You, Beth Cooper is about desperately horny high school nerd looking to hook up with a popular cheerleader. It won't satisfy audiences for these films just to copy Superbad's premise. Superbad was not funny because of its premise - the teen sex comedy was old and tired before Apatow got to it. The film was funny because it featured interesting characters, sharp dialogue and a unique perspective.

Elements of Superbad and Forgetting Sarah Marshall are evident in a number of films that center around young male buddies who go on a road trip looking to party, check out vacation sites, and score with the honeys. The buddies of Miss March are heading for the Playboy Mansion, the buddies of The Hangover are heading for Las Vegas, the buddies of Max's Mardis Gras are heading for New Orleans, and the buddies of Fired Up are heading for cheerleaders' camp. It is amazing to me that so many movies can be made from the simple premise of guys getting drunk and scratching around to get laid. The Hangover has a little bit of a twist. The morning after a bachelor's party in Las Vegas, three groomsmen wake up to find that they have lost the groom.

Apatow's films feature a great deal of male-bonding. A comedy that is all about male-bonding is I Love You, Man, which stars Sarah Marshall alumni Paul Rudd and Jason Segel.

For the summer, the studios bring out brassy, big-budget, special effects-driven comedies, including Land of the Lost and Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. I will admit to being excited by the poster for the new Night at the Museum. Hopefully, seeing Ben Stiller as a bumbling security guard will not seem overly familiar after Blart and Observe and Report.

The year also offers a number of family comedies, including Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel, Goose on the Loose!, and Tooth Fairy. You know you're watching a kid-friendly comedy when a funny talking animal has a central role. Goose on the Loose! pits comedy oldtimer Chevy Chase against a talking goose. How soon before we get Aflac:The Movie? Tooth Fairy features Dwayne Johnson as an ordinary man who is brought in to save the tooth fairy kingdom. It is basically a rehash of The Santa Clause. Not surprisingly, the film is directed by Michael Lembeck, who directed the two Santa Clause sequels.

Ice Cube and Mike Epps, the duo from the Friday movies, re-team as shady concert promoters for Janky Promoters. I have laughed at Cube's comedies but I haven't laughed at them enough to spend money to see them. I will probably catch this one on Comedy Central in 2011.

The only comedies that look interesting to me are Year One and Funny People. Year One features Jack Black and Superbad's Michael Cera as hunter-gatherers living in early Biblical times. People aren't sure what to expect from this movie. Is it another History of the World Part 1? Is it like The Life of Brian? It is great not to know what to expect. Filmmakers need to keep the audience guessing. This is what the movie experience should be all about. Funny People, which stars Adam Sandler as a stand-up comic dying from an untreatable blood disease, is an attempt by Apatow to blend comedy and drama. To his credit, Apatow usually provides something new and interesting. He certainly doesn't bother to waste his time reworking past successes. The film co-stars Apatow perennials Seth Rogen, Leslie Mann and Jonah Hill. Let's face it, Apatow and company own movie comedy right now. Apatow has become Hollywood's official comedy czar.

No, I'm sorry, I still don't find a fat guy on a Segway funny. Please don't bother making Paul Blart: Revenge of the Segway.

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